Thursday, May 31, 2012

Our Food - Creswick Farms

Sammit and I had a share in a meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in 2010.  I won't mention the name of it, but if you'd like to know you can contact me directly.  We bough a full sized year long share having not tasted their meat ahead of time.  That was a mistake.  The farm was great, the people were wonderful, but we didn't care for the taste of their products.  When it came time to renew in 2011, we didn't sign a contract and I went on a search for a new meat/egg farmer.  I came across Creswick Farms.

Creswick Farms is owned and operated by the Creswick family.  They are located in Ravenna, MI which is a little north of Grand Rapids.  Their prices are fantastic for the quality pasture raised beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and eggs they provide.  We buy once a month or every other month and pick up at their drop location in Novi, MI (about 20 minutes from where we live right now).

Here are a few things I love about Creswick Farms:
  • Their commitment to healthy, happy, pasture raised animals
  • Their fantastic Easter Smoked Hams!
  • The fact that I can go to their farm and see their operation (and pet their dog ^_^)
  • The huge line we wait in each time we pick up an order at our nearest drop - I love seeing so many people going out of their way to get good food.
  • Their relationship with Door to Door Organics (where we often get our produce)
  • Their specialty meats: bacon cheddar brats & honey bacon are some of the best!
  • Their 10% bulk discount
  • Their awesome website

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Permaculture & No Such Thing as Waste Songs

Things I did this week:

  • Ultimate home declutter session with Devin
  • 3 day garage sale (total: 3 carloads gone, 300 dollars gained)
  • Memorial Day on the water with friends
  • Countless hours falling in love with the homesteading community on Tumblr.
  • Countless hours categorizing the internet
  • Finished raised beds
  • Dealt with a cold
  • Soothed a significant amount of dehydration and sunburn
I've been busy!  I'll post the final pics of the raised beds in a few days along with the details of how I filled them.  Until then, I wanted to share two music videos I came across in my weekend endeavors; both are on topics close to my heart.

No Such Thing as Waste

Permaculture Song

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dinner with Devin: Pizza & Pudding

My sister, Devin, lives with me and makes helps me do DIY projects and create food from scratch.  Tonight Sammit is working and it's just us and the pets so we decided to make a chicken artichoke white pizza and chocolate pudding for dessert.

Chicken-Artichoke White Pizza

I've been working with a few pizza crusts.  Tonight I chose this one because it is simple and only takes about an hour from proofing yeast to laying on toppings.  This dough makes two big pizzas for us so I usually divide it after the first rise and freeze half*.
Look at that browning!
Dough - Ingredients
7g or 1 packet of dry active yeast
235ml or 1 cup warm water (110-115 (F))
200g or 1 1/2 cups white flour (bread flour for a crisper crust, AP for a chewier crust)
75g or 1/2 cup wheat flour (you can use all white if you'd like)
30ml or 2 Tbs olive oil
6g or 1 tsp salt
8g or 2 tsp honey

Dough - Directions
1. Proof yeast in warm water with honey for 10 minutes.  Add olive oil.
2. Combine flour and salt, then mix in wet ingredients and combine into a loose dough.
3. Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes or until the dough passes the windowpane test.
4. Form into a ball and let rise in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a tea towel for 30 minutes.
5. Halve the dough and roll out onto a stone/lightly oiled pan.  Note: if your pizza dough always springs back and won't roll out - let it rest for 5 minutes and try again, repeat as needed.  The gluten needs time to relax.

Pizza - Ingredients
Pizza Dough, rolled out
Enough olive oil to brush the crust's face-up side
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 handful of good ricotta cheese (whey squeezed out)
1/2 lb. shredded brick cheese (we used "brick" an italian pizza cheese with a lot of flavor but mozzarella works well, too).
1 handful of chicken (shredded/sliced, baked/grilled)
1 handful of artichoke hearts
Big pinch of oregano or italian or pizza seasoning

Pizza - Directions
1. Preheat oven to 500 (F).
2. Brush out enough olive oil to lightly over the dough.
3. Spread remaining ingredients evenly starting with garlic, then ricotta, chicken, artichokes, shredded cheese.
4. Pop pizza in the oven, turn oven down to 400 (F) and bake for 15 minutes.

Chocolate Pudding
I used a quick chocolate pudding recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  It was delicious - light but very rich.  I want to experiment using natural sweeteners (honey or maple syrup) but I thought I'd take it as is first.  I made the mistake of subbing the whole milk for 2 parts skim milk and 1 part half & half.  I didn't have whole milk and didn't want to buy any, but the pudding ended up kind of thin instead.

*When it's time to use the frozen dough, simply take it out of the freezer container and let it thaw/rise for 30 minutes, then proceed as normal.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Garden Update

I've been itching to get the garden beds together and get my plant starts in the ground.  Three things have been holding me back: time, illness, and fear.  I'm still interning at my field placement so I haven't had the lounge-like summer I had envisioned.  Also, the whole house has had a cold for a little over a week now, bringing everyone's energy and motivation down.  Finally, I've never really built anything before and the lumber section of the hardware store is intimidating.  It isn't rocket-science but its completely foreign to me and there is so much I don't even know I don't know.

In order to mitigate my fear I sought apprenticeship from my stepfather, Fred, who knows about this kind of stuff.  He proved to be quite difficult.  Even though he's a wonderful man, I don't think he fully understands that I'm not afraid of manual labor.  As I was explaining my plan to him and sheepishly showing him my electronic image of said plan, he just kept asking why I wanted to do this.  I'll paraphrase:
Stepdad: Why are you doing this?  You're moving soon.
Me: I already dug up the fence.  I have to do something.
Stepdad: This is a lot of work, why not just throw the plants in the ground.
Me: Well, you see, I already dug up the fence; I have to do something with it.
Stepdad, after thinking for some time: Do you have a chainsaw?...This is going to be a lot of work - I don't think you want to do this.
Me: What? No, of course I don't have a chainsaw and can we just operate under the assumption that there will be beds in there by the end of the week.  How should I do about doing this and are you always going to be such a Debbie Downer?
We compromised.  I make the plan more simple and he took me to the store and sorted through the landscaping timbers to find 24 of the straightest boards there.  He was even patient when the half of those 24 boards fell onto the cement floor, twice, before we could pay and get them in the car.

Today I bought a box of 3 inch outdoor screws and a handsaw - both of which are much better than the 2 inch drywall screws and hacksaw I tried to start the project with yesterday.  (I'm impatient).  I've been measuring and sawing away, stacking timbers and drilling holes.  Tonight when my lovely assistant gets home from work he's going to help me screw everything together.  I'll make sure to post the project when I'm done, but until then - here's a progress picture:

I'll work on my before/after photo skills.

Friday, May 18, 2012

House Hunting - Steps 1 & 2

Sammit and I started looking for a house this month.  We started this process last summer but stopped when A) we couldn't find a realtor that would talk to us if we weren't pre-approved for a mortgage and B) a creepy and aggressive loan officer who didn't complete his contracts and who really over-shared in his first meeting with us.  So, we ran away as fast as we could and hide in our frugally-rented-family-owned-too-small-for-everyone-living-here house until we felt comfortable enough to reemerge this spring.

And now, we're really enjoying the process.  Here's what we did differently:

A) We found a realtor we really like.  I was a little hesitant as a DIYer to look for a buyer's agent.  I was concerned it would ultimately be an added expense and we'd have someone who just wanted to get us in the most expensive house they could as fast as they could.  I took some advice from a blogger I respect and searched for a realtor through the Dave Ramsey website.  It's free - and while I don't tend to buy into a lot of the hype I find online about anything, I respect a lot of the stuff Dave Ramsey teaches about debt relief and money management.  The website sent my phone number to 3 agents in this area and each one of them contacted me within 24 hours.  I didn't get good feelings from two of the initial conversations.  I felt like they weren't listening to me and they recommended that we close before the end of the summer because "inventory is dropping and interest rates can't go any lower!" Gross.

One of the realtors I spoke with seemed very receptive to the pace Sammit and I are operating at - we want to be able to move quickly when we see something we like, but we don't want to feel rushed and we're in a great place to be able to take our time (even until next year if we need).  This realtor got it.  He set up a consultation with one of his buying agents so we could walk through the entire process of buying a house from beginning to end and have all of our questions answered.  This meeting was an hour long and came with no obligation to the company.

Our meeting was with Jerry (when we complete our transaction and are completely satisfied, I'll be happy to share his information) who is a laid-back but efficient guy.  He's about Sammit's age and has just started a family.  He's fantastic!  My favorite part about this process is that the agency encourages us to try other realtors and look with other buyer's agents.  We don't have to sign a commitment to them until we put an offer on a house we saw through them.  Actually, my real favorite part was when I told him we might have to wait until next summer - instead of trying to convince us to close in the next few months he said:
That might make the most sense!  I want to make sure you're in a house you love - 'cause if you're not happy, who are you going to blame? Me.  The inventory will always be there and I honestly don't think interest rates will be going up too much - they may even go down.  Besides, you'll have more money saved for a down payment and you'll probably feel more financially ready than you already are.
Can you say love at first meeting!?  That's exactly how we feel about it and he's the first person to agree.

Our Credit Union - "Doof-Koo"
B) We started the pre-approval process (again) but this time we talked with 3 different loan officers first.  We finally opted to apply with our credit union for a few reasons: 1) We get a higher dividend paid out to us each year if we hold our mortgage with them; 2) We can do all of our banking from one site and I don't have to remember more usernames and passwords; 3) Most importantly, our mortgage is kept in Michigan by the people who are loaning us the money.  They are more conservative with their loans because they are the ones who will eat-it if we default, but we have good credit scores and a low debt-to-credit ratio. While we won't hear back until next week, I have a feeling we'll be okay.  This is the largest amount of money we have ever, and most likely will ever, invest in ourselves and in the economy; I feel good knowing that it's staying local and supporting the kind of socially responsible foundation on which we try to build our lives.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seed Starting 2012

I read on a wise homesteading blog that it takes 5 years to get the hang of starting your own seeds.  I'm on year 4 and I think 5 might be about right.  I'm making great improvements each year, but I've never had anything that really resembles the plant size or strength of the farmer's market flat.  

Year One: I tried starting a few seeds in my apartment in college (sunflowers, beans, tomatoes).  I grew them in odd and end containers.  They germinated but without drainage and enough light they became spindly and weak.  

Year Two: I started seeds in my new apartment.  I used a starting kit I bought from Home Depot that came with pucks which expanded into a starting medium when warm water was added.  I had more light and some drainage.  But I also had a vacation planning in April and two cats who loved salads.  Nothing was really salvageable.

Year Three: I am generally pretty frugal and this year I tried starting seeds in natural egg cartons that I had saved and collected from friends.  I had significant light from a southern facing window and made sure to have some drainage in the bottom of the containers.  I also protected my stuff from the cats.  But in the end, there was not enough light and not enough room for roots to really develop.  I ended up with a few plants in the garden but depended mostly on starts from the farmer's market.

Year Four: Sammit gave me an actual grow light system for christmas so I have a significant amount of light (though I'm thinking I'll get one more for better coverage).  I used potting soil but I'm experimenting with a coconut coir and vermaculture blend.  I'm using yogurt and grapefruit cup containers from our regular grocery list with several holes drilled into the bottom.  The cups are stored in disposable aluminum baking pans to catch runoff water.  All of the containers are clearly labeled and stored in a spare bedroom away from cats.  I do not have a seed mat because they upstairs stays pretty warm.  I do have a fan that I turn on from time to time to help the stems strengthen in the artificial wind.

Year 4 - Week 2

Year 4 - Week 2
Year 4 - Week 8
Year 4 - Week 8
Year 4 - the whole system

I also updated my seed storage.  I used to hold my seeds in their original packets, the corners taped, and stuffed into this very adorable and very big box.  The packets would slide all over the place, making any attempt at organization pointless.

My new system is held in three stackable boxes (made in the UK).  I transferred the seeds to small envelopes with resealable flaps.  The envelope itself shows a lot of information about the seed inside.  The front shows the variety, whether or not it is organic, and the company from which I ordered the seeds. The back shows the year the seed was saved, its planting depth, and any information about the variety or planting tips.  They are organized in alphabetical order with a section labeled "flowers" for the handful of bachelor's button, sunflower, and marigold seeds I have.  Now I can find seed varieties easily and store them in properly in the off season.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Baked Crab Rangoon

Devin, the house photographer, documents our culinary lives.

16 oz crab or krab, shredded
16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 shallot or small red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, small dice
1 Tbs. worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 packet of wonton wrappers (45+ wrappers)
2 Tbs. coconut oil (or some other heat-tolerant oil), melted


Preheat oven to 350 (F) and brush a muffin tin with coconut oil.  Place won tons in each of the muffin holes so they form a cup. Mix together crab, onions, garlic, and sauces fill wontons with 1 tablespoon of crab filling.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are crisp and the filling is bubbling.

This made 47 wontons with about 2 Tbs. of filling left over that we used in an omelet.

Note: These do not reheat well (the wontons lose their crunch).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mint & Strawberry Salad

Devin and I finished taking out the fence in order to get the garden ready for building.  We broke for a nice lunch and utilized some of the spearmint that's popping up in the yard (and by some, I mean more mint than I will ever be able to use).

Here's a photo set Devin put together from our lunch.

Broccoli, corn on the cob, swiss mushroom brat from the farm,
and mint-strawberry salad.
We aren't very good at the before and after shots yet, but this is from the same angle and gives you an idea of what we've done so far - and here's where we hope to go!

Big Black Fence 
Fenceless! Next the tilling & building.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Orlando, FL - March 2012

Sammit and I returned to our Honeymoon location for my spring break this year.

How we got there & where we stayed:
We stayed at the Starwood Vistana Vista Villages again.  Instead of flying down this time we decided to road trip it.  We stayed with Sammit's aunt and uncle on the way down in Pikeville, KY and with my aunt and uncle on the way home in Gainesville, FL.  We also visited my dear friend John and had another amazing dinner in Tampa.

The Fun Details:
We tried to keep a low profile this trip.  On the way down we stopped at the Franklin Conservatory for their Orchid Event.

We split our days between lounging around the pool and walking through Universal Studios.  Once again, because of our off season timing it only took us 2 half days to go through both Universal Parks.  We went to Harry Potter World where we rode the ride in Hogwarts (once of the best we've done).

Chocolate Frogs

Quidditch Set

Mandrake Roots
Inside Hogwarts
The Sorting Hat

The Food Details:
We were trying to keep our costs and calorie intake low so we packed a big cooler with healthy foods made at home.  We ate sandwiches at the Franklin Conservatory and had a family dinner with Sammit's aunt and uncle on our first day of travel.

On day two we stopped at a place called Cafe 24 in Knoxville, TN.  While we didn't have a lot of time to explore, the city was very friendly!  And the lunch at Cafe 4 was amazing.  Sammit had a fried stuffed french toast and I had a spare rib and red onion chutney grilled cheese sandwich with parmesan truffle fries; we consumed most of our daily calories in that one meal but it was absolutely worth it.  I literally groaned with gastronomic pleasure.

We made a mandatory stop back at Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa when we visited my friend John.  We took him to dinner and split a wonderful steak!  Once again, I forgot to take pictures, even after telling everyone at the table that I would be taking photos of all their plates.  We managed to save just enough room to go upstairs in the Henry Waugh Dessert Room.  If you're ever going to find yourself in Tampa, save up and treat yourself.  It is an experience worth having (and take the kitchen and wine cellar tour).

Finally, we had lunch at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.  While it was still park food, it was decent park food.  I had fish and chips (obviously) and Sammit had roasted chicken.  We partook in the butter beer and tried both the regular and frozen.  Frozen.  Only do the frozen.  The regular butter beer tasted like horrible chemicals; we couldn't finish it.  But the frozen, while still made with gross chemicals, was a delicious blend of artificial butterscotch and shortbread cookie flavors.